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Parente wins PWC GT title, and later inherits Monterey win

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The Pirelli World Challenge GT championship at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca came down to the final lap, and even further than that a several-hour review of the finish, to determine both a race winner and a champion.

Ultimately, Alvaro Parente emerged with both at the end of a crazy day in Monterey.

The Portuguese driver of the No. 9 K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S GT3 headed into the weekend with a nine-point lead over Patrick Long, Porsche’s lone American factory driver in the No. 58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R.

But that was reduced to two points mere hours before the race began, owing to a points audit that saw Parente having been incorrectly awarded seven points for pole back at Lime Rock race two, points which should have gone to Andrew Palmer. Palmer did not start the race on account of a serious accident in morning warmup that left him critically injured; alas, Parente moved up to P1 there for the race that occurred all the way back in May, but the points note was only caught this weekend.

Sunday’s race was littered with cautions for accidents and it looked as though it would end under yellow following a heavy accident for Drew Regitz in his No. 19 Stephen Cameron Racing Audi R8 LMS ultra at Turn 2. All of it built to a crescendo on the final lap, a one-lap green and white flag showdown for both the race and the title.

Johnny O’Connell, who’d led the entire race from pole in the No. 3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R, restarted first with Long in second and Parente third. As it stood, Long held the championship lead.

However, O’Connell ran wide off Turn 4 and that opened the door for Long to make a run to the inside off the right-handed Turn 4, which became the outside for the left-handed Turn 5.

O’Connell contacted Long, which sent Long off course on corner exit and down the order into fifth. It promoted Parente into second, which was enough to give him the championship on the road. Meanwhile O’Connell won on the road.

Or so he thought, as for the second time this year in California (Long Beach), O’Connell lost the win hours later when it was determined he had committed avoidable contact. PWC officials assessed a 2.1-second post-race time penalty, enough to drop him behind Long.

“The penalty was accessed to Johnny O’Connell for avoidable contact entering turn five on the final lap of today’s GT/GTA/GT Cup Round 20,” said Greg Gill, CEO and president of WC Vision, producers of the Pirelli World Challenge. “The stewards looked at various angles of the incident and determined that Johnny had two wheels off the track and came back onto the track, making contact with Patrick. This contact knocked Patrick off the track in turn five. And the penalty was determined this evening after hours of review.”

Here were O’Connell and Long’s respective takes, via a series release:

“In that final green-white-checkered deal, I got a good start and then going through Turn 4 and I understeered off and dropped two wheels,” O’Connell said. “That allowed Patrick (Long) to get around the outside of me but never cleared me. So when we went into the breaking zone, I’m on the inside and he’s not clear of me so it’s not my job to give stuff. It’s my job to win races and was very shocked when he started turning down and we had contact.”

“I raced Johnny (O’Connell) at the end of the race and I expected racing room and didn’t get it,” Long said. “For him not to be in the championship hunt and to be the deciding factor is a difficult situation. In every scenario, there are two drivers that make a decision. There was no intention to try and battle Johnny the entire race. My focus was on the championship and the two times I was alongside or ahead of him, it came down to his mistakes. This is why we all love this sport, it is action packed.”

parente-on-car-for-titleParente, who’d endured a roller coaster of a day his own but raced both drivers cleanly, reflected on the wild afternoon. He’d started sixth, but launched into third by Turn 2 on the opening lap, which even gave him a shot at the title.

“What a crazy day. I had a fantastic start… managed to jump into third position,” Parente said. “Then I was pushing hard; there were two moments I was into Pat (Long) and trying to pass him. He defended well, I didn’t risk the contact at the time. I didn’t push hard for the move, but I was working on it. Then I realized halfway after the second safety car that it was going to be hard to pass him since he had good pace.

“And then came that crazy last lap; I can’t describe what went on there. I think there was a little bit of dirt into turn four, Johnny (O’Connell) had a bit of a moment, Pat (Long) tried to pass him on the outside and fought hard for the position in the braking zone and Johnny obviously wasn’t going to back down. I was looking to see and thought, ‘He’s going to go for it,’ and Johnny defended his position, Pat went wide, and I went by. It was a great year. What a fantastic year for Pirelli World Challenge. It’s a great and unique thing going on here in the GT racing world.”

Cooper MacNeil (GTA) and Corey Fergus (GT Cup) took the other two class wins, MacNeil perhaps a bit fortunate after Acura driver Ryan Eversley had a rare contact instance and knocked Long’s Wright Motorsports teammate Michael Schein off the road.

“It ended up helping me because he dropped two wheels exiting Turn 9 and basically lost it into Turn 10 and basically collected Schein who was in the lead and I was right there to capitalize. Sometimes things just go your way like that,” MacNeil admitted.

Fergus took an overdue first GT Cup win this year after class champion Alec Udell and Sloan Urry had swept the season to date.

Vettel, Raikkonen complete hot laps in Ferrari F1 cars at Daytona

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Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen enjoyed their final Formula 1 run-outs of 2016 on Sunday at Daytona International Speedway, taking part in a special demonstration for the Ferrari Finali Mondiali.

The Finali Mondiali acts as the world final for the continental Ferrari Challenge series, bringing together competitors from the North America, Europe and Asia Pacific championships.

As part of the weekend’s running, Vettel and Raikkonen were on hand to complete demonstration laps behind the wheel of recent Ferrari F1 cars, with Vettel also completing some donuts in front of the main granstand at Daytona.

Here are some of the videos and pictures from the event.

Sebastian Vettel dismisses suggestion he could replace Rosberg at Mercedes

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27: Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP is congratulated by Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Ferrari on the podium during the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Sebastian Vettel has brushed off suggestions that he could take Nico Rosberg’s vacant Formula 1 seat at Mercedes next year, saying his focus lies on working with Ferrari to improve on their 2016 season.

Rosberg sensationally announced on Friday that he would be retiring from F1 with immediate effect, just five days after winning his maiden World Championship.

Rosberg’s move has sent the driver market into a late flux, with Mercedes’ Niki Lauda claiming that half of the F1 grid has been in touch regarding the seat despite many of them having contracts.

Vettel has been named as a possible candidate for Rosberg’s seat despite having one year remaining on his Ferrari deal, but when speaking at the Finali Mondiali at Daytona International Speedway, the German stressed he is focused on his current commitments at Maranello.

“I think it’s no secret the fact that me and Kimi Raikkonen have a contract for next season,” Vettel is quoted as saying by La Gazzetta dello Sport.

“Kimi and I are already committed. In 2017 we will be competitive.

“We have not reached the goal this year, but now it will be important to do the job at the factory in the next two months.

“I am confident that we will definitely present an improved package.”

Vettel signed off with a message to Rosberg, wishing the retiring champion “happy holidays!”

Vettel finished 2016 fourth in the drivers’ championship without a win to his name as Ferrari struggled to keep up with Mercedes and Red Bull in the pecking order.

Mercedes is set to begin its search for a replacement on Monday, with the other big-name driver besides Vettel linked to the seat being McLaren’s Fernando Alonso.

Should Mercedes want to promote one of its junior drivers, Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon are both also available, although neither has more than a season of F1 experience.

Hamilton not chasing number one status at Mercedes after Rosberg exit

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 25: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP walks in the Paddock during practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 25, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton says he is not chasing number one driver status at Mercedes as the team begins its search for a replacement for Formula 1 World Champion Nico Rosberg.

Rosberg edged out Hamilton for the F1 drivers’ championship in Abu Dhabi last Sunday before sensationally announcing his immediate retirement from the sport five days later.

Mercedes has said it will take its time when looking for a replacement for Rosberg, with the majority of the F1 grid tied up contractually for 2017.

Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel have both been linked with the Mercedes drive in the wake of Rosberg’s departure, leading to questions about whether Hamilton would want another big-name star alongside him.

Mercedes has always stressed that it does not have a number one driver, and Hamilton said that he would not insist on that changing when his new teammate arrives.

“I’ve never been a driver to ever request that,” Hamilton said when asked about number one status.

“I know a lot of the other drivers Sebastian, Fernando make sure that’s in their contract.

“I’ve just always asked to have equal rights. As long as we’re treated fairly, it doesn’t really matter who’s alongside you.

“But of course, we’ve got great team bosses, who I’m sure will choose the right people to be representing the brand.”

Whoever replaces Rosberg will become Hamilton’s fifth teammate in F1, the Briton having previously worked with Alonso, Heikki Kovalainen and Jenson Button during his time at McLaren before joining Mercedes in 2013.

Rosberg: Hamilton’s late-season form ‘the best Lewis I’ve ever seen’

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo neads Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track  during the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Nico Rosberg believes that Lewis Hamilton produced some of the best performances of his career towards the end of the 2016 Formula 1 season when the Briton had nothing to lose in the championship fight.

Rosberg clinched his maiden F1 drivers’ championship by five points in Abu Dhabi last Sunday, defeating Hamilton for the first time during their time as teammates.

Rosberg closed out the season with four straight second place finishes, with Hamilton’s run of victories in the same period not being enough to catch up in the standings.

Speaking in a video produced by Mercedes after his championship win, Rosberg said that he felt the most pressure after his final win of the season in Japan, the result that meant he could wrap up the title without taking another victory.

“The changing moment was Suzuka for me, when all of a sudden I had the 33-point lead and that meant it was in my hands, and it’s mine to lose, because it was enough to do second-second-second and third,” Rosberg said.

“That’s when really the pressure started for me because it became real, the chance to win the championship and to beat Lewis. It was real.”

Rosberg was only assured of the title when he crossed the finish line in Abu Dhabi, with Hamilton going deliberately slow in a bid to back the German into the chasing pack.

“Abu Dhabi was intense. It was the most intense experience I’ve ever had in a race car,” Rosberg said.

“Even qualifying, the laps in qualifying, not easy really. And for sure it has an impact on your performance. It’s not possible that you do the same performance as if you’re in Lewis’ position where he has nothing to lose.”

Rosberg believes that the lack of pressure brought the very best out of Hamilton, as he closed out the campaign with four consecutive victories from pole position.

“That’s why he got the pole positions and why I was second in the last couple of races because he’s free, has no weight and nothing to lose,” Rosberg said.

“It was the best Lewis I’ve ever seen, the last few races, because not only was he completely free, but also the most determined and motivated ever, working as hard as ever.

“[It was] massively difficult to beat him in those circumstances.”

Rosberg announced on Friday that he would be retiring from racing with immediate effect, meaning we have likely seen the last of his rivalry with Hamilton in F1.